- Mark Rein
Bravery in the Shade of a Powdered Donut
Marcy: This episode we thought we would do something a little different. To give Mark time to attend the Killer Nashville Writer's Conference, we put together this all-discussion episode.
Marcy: Welcome to Crime Raven; true crimes, real-life stories from law enforcement, and issues crime fighters face. This podcast highlights crimes researched by retired Detective Sergeant Mark Rein, using publicly available information, court records, and personal recollections. Content may be graphic, disturbing, or violent. Listener discretion is advised. Suspects are considered innocent until found guilty in a court of law.
Marcy: We decided this would be a good opportunity to give you a little extra background and tell a few stories. So let's start with, why did you decide to do a true crime podcast?
Mark: Cop stories. Well, most of it's your fault. So for a few years, after I retired, I tried to leave the world of crime behind and develop something new. I'm still struggling with this, you know, developing a small farm, raising pigs, building a flock of sheep, fencing, infrastructure. I started with no idea what I was doing, and I'm still nowhere near what I'd consider to be competent.
At the same time, I have this area of expertise, law enforcement. It's just there. I'm not using it for anything other than calling out when pundits get something wrong on TV, in terms of police or investigations. There are a lot of misunderstandings in the media and in politics.
Here's an example of one of those issues. About five years ago, it became a national issue that there's an untested backlog of sexual assault kits. In some cities, these can run into thousands of untested kits. The national push was to get every one of those kits analyzed. And it sounds good. It sounds great as a national anti-sexual assault rallying cry, I told Marcy the first time I noticed this issue growing that it probably would not achieve the stated goals of locking up a slew of offenders.
And I was right. Don't get me wrong. Every kit that has determinative evidentiary values should be processed, but across the country, delving into that backlog of rape kits has not led to huge numbers of successful new prosecutions. It's because the backlog kits have shown exactly what they were expected to show DNA from known offender X is found on reporting victim Y. In most cases, the presence of DNA is not the issue that must be proven. It's the lack of consent that must be proven and proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Now, that legal standard is completely separate from whether or not we believe a victim, but the legal standard is what investigators have to overcome and why sexual assault is a challenging investigation. This is an issue that's difficult for prosecutors and investigators to articulate without sounding like they don't care whether evidence is analyzed or maybe they're questioning a victim's veracity.
I've gotten way off into the weeds on this, but there are lots of police issues that have come up recently that I'd like to talk about over time. My views on use of force and drug search warrant services are a couple of examples. I hope the podcast will allow me to talk about those things over time.
The other thing about the podcast is that I love to write, It's been difficult to move away from writing that sounds like a police report to something more palatable. The podcast is hopefully helping me hone my skills. I guess you'll be the judge of that. Also, I'm building the discipline to write every day and meet a deadline.
Marcy: I pitched to you that you should get into podcasting. I am an avid true crime podcast fan. And fans of true crime are very particular about what they like and don't like. I get frustrated by banter that doesn't have anything to do with true crime. I like a focused podcast. I like people who know what they're talking about. And I talk with you about crime all the time. We always have. Anything in the news I'm always asking your perspective on it, based on your experience.
One thing that I think is fairly unique with you in the true-crime podcast world is that you aren't a homicide detective. You've been involved in a lot of homicide cases, but your experience in law enforcement is really broad and I think that brings an extra perspective to episodes that maybe other podcasts don't have, and I'd like to think it improves us.
Since retiring from law enforcement, you've begun writing. I've always encouraged you to write about crime, but you've often said that what you know isn't that interesting, and you didn't think anybody would care about it. But I think you've finally warmed up to that idea, and mainly probably as an opportunity to practice your writing.
Mark: I guess I thought most of the stuff I wanna talk about was uninteresting because it's the thing I talked about every day, all day in my career. But as we move away from it, as I get more into the farming thing, I'm more interested in kind of going back to what's comfortable. And I get to talk about aspects of my old life and figure out how to get those ideas onto paper in a way that I don't sound like a robot, like writing a police report and all on a time schedule. Believe it or not, I really would like to write sci-fi. but at the same time, I've really warmed up to writing about police, maybe do some mysteries and I really like the true crime, writing also.
Marcy: When I talked with you about podcasting, I never wanted to be a cohost, and it took me a minute to get used to that. But I actually kind of enjoy it now. It's been a bit of a curve to learn the technical stuff, but I think it's been a good break for my brain from a stressful job.
One of the things that we had to do at the very beginning was come up with a name for our podcast. So tell me about how crime Raven came about.
Mark: Yeah, when I first said, this is what I wanna call it, you and our son looked at me like I was crazy. Like, what's that about? Anyway, so here's the thing. Aside from the well-known literary reference to Ravens, Ravens are an Alaska bird. They're everywhere in the state, and these birds are not like crows in most parts like country, these are huge birds. In Alaska Native culture, Ravens are mystical creatures, tricksters, and they have a part in their origin stories.
I really like them. Some people think of them as nuisances, as simply carrion feeders, picking the bones of the dead. Which is kind of part of the reason I chose them. They can be creepy. I did not know until years after I came to Anchorage that Ravens roost at night in the trees, on the mountainsides overlooking the city. After that some sunsets I'd watch, I think thousands of birds silently looking down upon us. A little creepy.
But what does that have to do with me? Okay. So I always thought that Ravens milling around on a trash pile bore a similarity to groups of officers at a crime scene. All dressed in black, huddled around, meticulously picking through the debris. No matter how you feel about them, they're a necessary evil.
Marcy: So let's switch gears. You have some crazy stories from your time at Anchorage Police Department. Let's tell a few stories that are kind of funny and crazy in a "thank God I didn't die" kind of way.
You won awards for life-saving and for valor over your career. However, something that you've often said is for every award given to an officer, there are many other circumstances that deserved an award that just didn't get noticed. One of those times might have been the fire extinguisher story. Tell me about that.
Mark: That is true. Every time anybody gets an award as a police officer, you really think, well, number one, I'm doing my job, and number two, boy, I saw somebody do something so much more, more.
This particular call happened for me on a crazy night. Sometimes nights are slow and not much happens. And there's sometimes at nights where you go call to call, for some pretty significant stuff. And this is one of those nights. First thing, I went to a call where I performed CPR on an infant, which is always emotionally draining. I left that call and went to an area adjacent to mine, to help out on a motorcycle collision. Two people, riding a motorcycle, left a downtown bar and didn't make a curve and were thrown off the bike into a power pole and both were killed.
As that call stabilized, I went back to my area for a report of a domestic disturbance where the male involved was threatening to burn down his house and kill him and his girlfriend. The location was for police, a frequent flyer address. I was sent with an officer who later became my detective supervisor, John Ricktarzik. While we were both en route dispatch gave us updates that made the call sound more serious than the usual fight.
The male subject had a flammable liquid and a lighter. That's not the kind of thing that anyone wants to hear when they're going to a call. John and I arrived at the location at the same time, parking outta sight, just around the corner of the place. The target location was a center unit of a large condo building. We could, as is common in a lot of these things, you can hear the fight before you see it. Standing under the large picture window we approach, we could see the shadows of two figures against the thin curtains. It was obvious as he yelled that the man was drunk and angry. The fight sounded physical. People like bumping into things as they moved and the man was yelling as a woman sobbed. At that point, I was relieved there was no evidence of a fire.
Each of our cars came equipped with a large fire extinguisher, which were often useful at car crash scenes, but fairly unheard of, for a fight in a residence. I like the boy scout motto: be prepared. We both decided to carry our fire extinguishers for this one, just in case. For an incident like this, you really want the element of surprise. The front door was at ground level, and then after you passed the front door, you have to climb up a long stairway into the living room. While you're on those stairs, anyone up there can overlook a half wall that looks down on the stairwell. Luckily, the front door was unlocked. Rictarzik quietly opened the door and I could immediately smell the strong odor of lighter fluid or kerosene. With this smell, we both pulled the pins on our fire extinguishers.
We crept inside, without announcing, which is unusual. You usually don't go into somebody's house without saying, you know, police come to the door, and above us, as we went inside, the fight was continuing, which is good because it covered our sound - two big guys climbing like stairs that seemed to last forever. Rictarzik was ahead of me and we reached the point where he could see over the pony wall. He nodded back to me. I gave him the thumbs up and we both moved up quickly onto the landing. as we're moving Rictarzik, yelled, "stop!" And the man and woman who looked like they had been fighting over something in their hands, looked up at us. The man dropped the bottle to the ground. The woman stopped and split down the stairs past us. The rest all happened in slow motion. The man was about 10 feet away. He had a lighter in one hand, he bent down and picked up the can of lighter fluid and he started spraying it towards us, the lighter flashing in his other hand as he's spraying. Rictarzik and I both discharged our fire extinguishers at the same time. The effect was explosive. The white powder went out and hit the guy directly in the chest. For a second, he looked like a statue or a powdered donut with eyes. The powder deflected off the man and filled the room so densely that within five seconds, visibility was less than two feet.
The man recovered and began moving around in the living room that now seemed like it was the thickest steam bath imaginable. The only hint of the suspect's location was the sound of his coughing and the periodic spark of the lighter click, click click, as he's trying to light something. He's yelling obscenities, at us. Hysterically screaming he was going to kill us. He's gonna burn the place down. John and I are both trying to grab this guy, but in the haze, he evaded us. We're both coughing and having problems breathing, so we both retreated. There were no words said, we just decided we gotta get outta here cuz neither one of us can breathe. We both retreated to the ground level for some air. During the break, I called for additional backup units and to ensure the fire department was standing by. While this was happening, the subject began lighting anything you could find, mainly books and magazines, dropping them down the stairs.
Luckily, the powder up there was keeping anything from really, really lighting up. After a couple minutes, more officers were arriving. I sent some of those guys to clear out the adjacent apartments in case the bad guy was able to get the fire going. Another officer took the woman who had run out and started talking to her. We want to know if there's any firearms in the apartment.
In any case, it was clear that we needed that quickly to avoid disaster. I asked an officer to wait at the bottom of the stairs with a fresh fire extinguisher. Rictarzik and I crept back to the stairs and waited for the man to come back and throw something over the edge of the pony wall. When he finally appeared with something, flaming his hands, we surprised him. We both stood up, grabbed him, and pulled him over the rail towards us. And we all went tumbling backward down the stairs, the flailing man, the burning debris, and two cops. When we hit the landing down below the officer at the bottom, did his duty and doused us with the fire extinguisher. Luckily none of us was seriously injured. The apartment was a mess, but still standing. Later, when we described what had happened, it sounded like we were exaggerating, but there were enough people that had witnessed the ending that it became legend. Somehow the tail morphed into John and I riding the suspect down the stairs, like a bull in a rodeo. In retrospect, it kind of was like that.
Marcy: Bravery in the shade of a powdered donut. Okay. Another story. APD has a home car program, which while you're on patrol, you take your patrol car home with you after your shift. It helps increase visibility in the community and a bunch of other things. Talk about that.
Mark: Yeah. There were some funny things that happened with the police car parked in front of your house. I never knew how much neighbors liked the marked patrol car until I became a detective and started driving unmarked cars and undercover cars. We lived mid-block on a cul-de-sac and several neighbors liked the deterrent effect it had as it was prominently parked on the street. I only knew this afterward because they complained and wanted me to go back to patrol.
Marcy: Yeah, about a dozen people showed up on our porch one night to formally request that you get your old patrol car back. It was pretty startling.
Mark: I was in the shower. I remember I was getting ready for a shift. I was in the shower. I was getting ready to go somewhere. I was in the shower when they came over and you had to handle that.
The marked car could be kind of a magnet too. Of course, you had the odd person who wants to file a police report in the middle of the day. One time an elderly lady who wanted to turn in a hub cap that she saw someone lose fully expected me to track down the owner of the car. Apparently, she was old enough to remember when our city of 400,000 was small enough to find a guy who owned a Ford sedan missing a hub.
Marcy: These things always happened when you were busy or sleeping or in the shower. We were definitely the neighborhood lost and found. Someone turned in a ring to me one day. Another time they brought me a found toddler. It was exhausting. Policing is truly a family affair.
Mark: I forgot about the kid. Yeah. There was another time a teenage girl visiting the neighbors across the street, backed into the side of my police car. It wasn't a huge deal, but she did significantly crunch the side doors.
I shrugged it off with her. She's a new driver and all, I said to her, these things happen, but be careful backing, particularly neighborhoods because there are kids around. She said to me, very earnestly, I would never hit a kid. I laughed and said, but you'd hit a police car? Just be careful. I saw her again, several months later. She and my car were famous. We made her high school yearbook and she couldn't wait to show the pictures to me.
One time at the very end of my shift, I was leaving jail and I came across a guy on the road. He looked like he had been in a fight. He was bleeding from his face. I stepped outta my car to check on him and he spun around and attacked me. Luckily he was drunk and uncoordinated and I was able to deflect his blows. We struggled and I pinned him on the side of my car. And as I'm getting him in handcuffs, I'm kind of, we're kind of working down the side of my car as he's trying to get away and hit me and stuff. And long story short, his injuries were not significant. So after medical clearance, he went to jail for disorderly conduct and, generally being a drunken ass. I processed the arrest and the paperwork went home and slept most of the day.
When I woke up I noticed a group of kids standing in the street admiring the far side of my car. Then there were a few adults out there too. I went out to see what was up. I get to the far side of my car and it looks like somebody's been slaughtered on it. When I wrestled with that guy, we slid down the side of my car and it was like a paintbrush of blood. When the neighbor kids noticed my car, they were sure I or somebody was dead. Anyway, my next stop was the car wash.
There was another more serious incident that impacted literally my cop car. One night I was working the west side of town in Spenard. I mentioned this area in other episodes. The largest club or bar in Anchorage was in my area. It's called Chilkoot Charlie's and it's easily, the most popular bar in a city with plenty of bars, the place is huge. And on weekend nights, there can be thousands of people coming and going. Hundreds of cars, packing, not only the parking lots but blocking all the side streets for literally blocks.
The security of Coots is pretty good and can handle most of their problems. But when this place erupts, it can be really bad. So we get a call of a shooting with a man down in the middle of the main parking lot, just south of the bar. My partner in the area has a recruit that night and they happen to be closer. So they arrive within a couple minutes. I get caught in a